Larry LaRue

Two Tacoma kids with acting chops land roles in 5th Avenue Theatre show in Seattle

“Movies will make you famous. Television will make you rich. But theater will make you good.”

— Terrence Mann

Liam Loughridge is neither famous nor rich, though he’s not even quite 12 years old so he still has time.

For now, he’s working on “good.”

A sixth-grader at Tacoma’s Visitation Catholic STEM Academy (the STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics), Liam is a veteran of eight plays, mostly musicals.

None has been as big as “A Christmas Story — The Musical,” which is playing this month at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle.

“Of all the plays I’ve been in, this is the best. Our director has done Broadway productions,” Liam said while adjusting his wire-rim glasses. “We rehearse six to eight hours a day in Seattle.

“Once in awhile, I’ll wake up and wish it was a day off, but I love what I’m doing.”

He and 10-year-old Amelia Stiles have performed with the Tacoma Musical Playhouse in their young careers. When the 5th Avenue put out a casting call in September for the Christmas production, they auditioned.

Overall, about 250 children tried out for 16 roles. Liam and Amelia were the only locals cast.

“I sing in the girls ensemble,” said Stiles, a Skyline Elementary fourth-grader.

And Liam? “I play the character Schwartz. I’ve got a solo in one of the songs.”

Both kids are working harder on this project, which has a cast of 16 adults and two dogs, than any previous production.

Every day for the past few weeks, Amelia’s mom, Sophie, has driven the kids from Tacoma to Seattle about 11:30 a.m. for rehearsals. About 12 hours later, Liam’s mother, Carol, has picked them up and taken them home. Weeks of shorter rehearsals preceded that.

Opening night was Thursday, and the grueling schedule continues. There’s a performance every evening except Christmas Day, and two each day on weekends.

“We get Christmas off, but not Christmas Eve,” Amelia said.

The grueling schedule means both children aren’t attending school this month. They get their schoolwork done each day before heading for Seattle, and drop off and pick up assignments once a week.

Both got into theater because of family.

“I loved doing skits with my dad, and he’d play guitar and teach me old rock ’n’ roll songs,” Amelia said. “I’ve been in about six plays.”

Liam said all of his three siblings tried the stage.

“They have all acted, though my older brother no longer does,” he said. “The two others — my brother Brian and sister Bryanna — got me into it. They were both in ‘Hansel & Gretel’ when I was in kindergarten, so I was, too.”

Liam auditioned for a role in “Les Miserables,” and didn’t get it, but was cast as the lead in “The Prince and the Pauper” at TMP. Amelia, a redhead, played the lead in “Annie” at TMP.

Both kids are happy to talk about their successes, but neither seems overly impressed with themselves.

“My friends don’t know a lot about musical theater. Some people play checkers, some collect things. My hobby is musical theater,” said Amelia, who then laughed. “In my head, I’m awesome.”

Liam keeps his career in perspective.

“I’m in a play. It’s no big deal,” he said. “My friends are happy at how far I’ve come.”

While each seems calm about their time onstage, both were a bit overwhelmed after the cast’s preview performance last week — before an audience of 4,100.

“I didn’t know an audience could be that loud,” Amelia said.

Liam listened to the ovation. His first thought? “We did it!”

Both would welcome roles in movies or television, but each has a dream role in musical theater.

“If I could pick one role from plays I’ve seen, it would be Jack in ‘Into the Woods,’ ” Liam said.

“I’d be Matilda!” Amelia grinned, looking every inch the part. “But my mom says even if I played a rock, she’d be in the audience.”

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